author – activist – faculty – mom
Lately, I’ve been reading a lot about overworked moms (Actually, I listen on audiobooks as I do overworked mom things like emptying the compost and schlepping my kid to and from preschool). In Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink by Katrina Alcorn and Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte, the authors catalogue how moms are drowning in the demands to be perfect workers and perfect mothers—all while they do a much greater percentage of the domestic work than male partners.
So no wonder I loved the first commercial for Amazon’s Fire tablet. It begins with the tablet undergoing laboratory stress tests that allegedly certify it to be twice as durable as an iPad. Then comes the real-life stress test: A harassed suburban mom in her 30s hustles out the door with her son in soccer gear. In one hand, she holds an apple, a banana, and her Amazon tablet. In the other she has a water bottle and car keys. She unlocks her minivan and sets the tablet on top of it. All this with her smart phone pressed between ear and shoulder, as she speaks presumably to her husband, “…pick up your suit at the dry cleaner. I didn’t…get it…” She interrupts herself to hustle her kid into the car—“buckle up, sweetie—jump in! Jump in!” Just as she begins to pull out of the driveway, a neighbor kid comes by on a skateboard. She screeches to a stop, and the tablet bounces off the car and skids onto the ground in front of him. The kid gives her the side-eye from beneath his helmet as he hands her the tablet, which she easily turns back on, unscathed.
I loved this commercial so much—it totally spoke to the craziness of my working mom life…But then I saw Amazon Fire’s second commercial, released a few months later. It shows a similar lab stress test, but a very different real life test. A man in his 30s walks along a hallway in a large quiet house with a sleeping dog. He’s smiling and watching a basketball game with headphones on and turns to go down the stairs. The headphone cord catches on the banister, and the tablet bounces down the steps. The noise frightens the dog, but the man goes back to watching the game after he retrieves the tablet, unscathed.
Wait a second, I thought. Is that really how Amazon sees this? That women’s lives are encumbered by obligations to others while men’s lives are insulated, calm, and leisurely?
According to Both Maxed Out and Overwhelmed, there’s a significant gap between the quality and amount of leisure in the lives of mothers and fathers. In fact, in Overwhelmed, Schulte points out that, historically, men have always had a culture of leisure, but women have not.
I have experienced this firsthand. My partner works hard at his job. But before and after work, and on weekends, he expects uninterrupted time to watch TV, play video games, and read sci-fi on his kindle. If I want to watch TV, I need to do it while cooking, cleaning, and sorting laundry. We’ve both got smartphones, but somehow the family events never seem to make it into his calendar. I am his default calendar app. Even the amusing time I spend on Twitter feels like work: I build my social media platform and look for story ideas. Which leads to another sore spot in my marriage: my literary career. Writing is work. But since it didn’t bring in any money for five years, my spouse has considered it a hobby. This feeds into a dynamic Schulte identified in Overwhelmed: women often spend many hours doing tasks that male onlookers categorize as leisure. She interviewed a time researcher who insisted that the average working mother in the US has 30 weekly hours of leisure. Schulte was flabbergasted until she learned that his definition of “leisure” included waiting for the tow truck to pick up her broken-down car—a stressful disruption which was still the quietest moment of her insane journalist/mom day.
In fact, both Maxed Out and Overwhelmed reveal that women in the US do a disproportionate share of the childcare and housework. This is true, even when they work full time, as much or even more than male spouses. I teach part time at a university, which is why I agreed to do the vast majority of the domestic work. But if you add the unpaid time I’ve spent writing my forthcoming novel, I’ve often worked more hours than my spouse during the day. And then I do dinner, bath, and bedtime in the evening because he’s “tired” from “working.”
So here’s the Amazon Fire commercial I’d like to see: my spouse is on the subway watching sci-fi TV. He gets a text on the tablet from me that I have a book promo interview, and I need him to pick up the kid. He cheerfully agrees, but he drops the tablet as he hustles off the train. It bounces and skids across the cement platform, almost falling off the other end into the tracks. He picks it up, and rushes off to get our kid and make dinner. Later, as I’m getting a drink with a writer friend, I get a text. He uses the tablet to send some silly faces photos and the message that everyone is getting along just fine while Mommy gets a break. For once, my leisure time emerges unscathed.
[thanks to Susie Meserve for great editing!]